NEW YORK -The way women eat in their late 50s and early 60s may have some connection to how well they age later on, according to a new study. Earlier studies examining the benefits of a healthy diet have typically focused on its link to specific diseases or death. The new report took a big-picture view of healthy aging in general. Most health conditions develop slowly over many years. So it’s important to look at people’s disease risks over the course of their lives - not just in old age, Cecilia Samieri said.

“Midlife exposures are thought to be a particularly relevant period,” she told Reuters Health in an email. “For example, atherosclerosis in cardiac diseases (and) brain lesions in dementia, start in midlife.” Samieri is from the Research Center INSERM in Bordeaux, France. She worked on the study with researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Their results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The report included 10,670 women who were enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, a large, long-term study which began in 1976. Women included in the new analysis were in their late 50s and early 60s and had no major chronic diseases in the mid-1980s. All participants filled out two diet questionnaires, one in 1984 and one in 1986. The researchers assigned women scores based on how closely their diets matched a general healthy eating index or a Mediterranean-style diet. Next, they followed the participants to see how well they aged through 2000, when women were in their 70s. The researchers defined “healthy aging” as having no major chronic diseases, physical impairment, mental health problems or trouble with thinking and memory.